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Studying work: A Sociologist in the HALLS of Management. Karen Foster | Management Department. My Background. Undergraduate in Sociology (Dalhousie) Masters in Sociology with Specialization in Survey Methods (Waterloo)

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Studying work: A Sociologist in the HALLS of Management


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my background
My Background
  • Undergraduate in Sociology (Dalhousie)
  • Masters in Sociology with Specialization in Survey Methods (Waterloo)
  • PhD in Sociology (Carleton; Dissertation: ‘Relating to Work: Generation, Discourse and Social Change’)
  • Post-Doc at the Gender and Work Database and the Comparative Perspectives on Precarious Employment Database (York)
  • Currently Banting Post-Doctoral Fellow in Management (SMU)
major research
Major research
  • Generations & Work (dissertation)
  • Unemployed, marginalized young people (book)
  • Young workers & precarious employment (CCPA)
  • Productivity & Prosperity (Banting post-doc)
generations and work
Generations and Work
  • Active public / popular discourse around generations (especially about work and career)
  • Millennials / Gen Y as “entitled”, “narcissistic”, lacking a work ethic, needing to be “coddled”, tech-savvy (or tech-obsessed)
  • Boomers as dedicated, but tech-useless, change-averse, “materialistic”
  • Much disagreement (e.g. Millennials as more AND less “community-minded”? More AND less “political”/”activist”)
the science of generations
The “Science” of Generations
  • Jean Twenge’s work: Millennials as narcissistic, individualistic, less interested in the environment, community, politics, etc.
  • “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are more Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable than ever before” (2006)
the science of generations1
The “Science” of Generations?
  • My critique:
    • these concepts change over time. What does community mean?
    • using the Boomers as the “baseline”. What would happen if we changed the baseline?
    • what IS a generation, really? Should it be defined in advance like this?
what is a generation
What IS a generation?
  • Most studies define it in advance (a priori)based on birth year, based on what previous studies have said and done.
  • Do people really fall into such neat categories? What if we bumped the boundaries +/- 5 years?
generation
Generation

Long tradition of sociological research, philosophy and theology about generation(s).

Mannheim (1920s):

“The sociological phenomenon of generations is ultimately based on the biological rhythm of birth and death. But to be based on a factor does not necessarily mean to be deducible from it, or to be implied in it.[...] Without history and social structure, generations would cease to exist, and this history and social structure must be taken into account in any definition of or analysis of generation.”

a deeper problem
A deeper problem
  • Most studies conceive of generation as a definitive group of people, and most attempt to define it in advance and THEN figure out its qualities and characteristics.
  • Deductive (theory  hypothesis  observation) instead of inductive (observation  hypothesis  theory).
  • Easy to translate research results into popular stereotypes.
  • But… the world is messier than that.
my approach
My approach
  • Start talking to people, then see where divisions emerge.
  • Exploring
    • how people talk about generation
    • what qualities and characteristics are ascribed to one generation or another?
    • Why/how does this happen?
    • Are these qualities and characteristics contested?
    • Are there differences that might be called “generational?”
the study
The Study
  • Qualitative interviews with 52 employed or retired Canadians in Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax
  • Diversity in the sample: gender, age and class, but ethnic and linguistic diversity limited
  • Unstructured interviews: “tell me your working life story, beginning with your earliest memory of work.”
  • Lasted 30 min to over 2 hours
findings and arguments
Findings and Arguments
  • Generation as a “politics of representation” (Mehan, 1997; Hall, 2007)
  • Assumptions:
    • Language is/has power
    • There are struggles to have your definition of something be the accepted / dominant one.
    • Media examples (spin, bias, balance)
generation as a politics of representation
Generation as a Politics of Representation

In the politics of representation, the “selection of words” and “topics” is one of the primary “strategies” which “proponents of various views use […] to ensure that their framing of the nature of a particular issue predominates” (Wenden, 2005:91).

“Language has power. The language we use in public political discourse and the way we talk about events and people in everyday life makes a difference in the way we think and the way we act about them. […] Words have constitutive power: they make meaning of things. And when we make meaning, the world is changed as a consequence” (Mehan, 1997:251).

generation as a politics of representation1
Generation as a Politics of Representation

From my interviews: two opposing “framings” of generational differences.

Framing one:

  • “The younger generation” is “entitled”, flaky, not committed to work, unrealistic about how much work is required, lazy, lacking a work ethic. They do not understand how the working world / employer-employee relationship really works.
  • “The older generation” is dedicated to work, they think about the organization’s needs before their own, they have a solid work ethic. They are doing it right.
generation as a politics of representation2
Generation as a Politics of Representation

Framing two:

  • “The younger generation” is looking for meaningful work, not money and prestige. They want to make a difference and a contribution through their work. They want their values to align with the organization’s. They know that you don’t necessarily get back what you put in.
  • “The older generation” is materialistic and a bunch of workaholics. They only work hard because they can’t help it and because they want to afford their boats and cars and big houses. They sacrifice their lives to employers for rewards that never come (or aren’t “what really matters in life”).
relating to work
Relating to Work
  • Clear, age-related patterns: differences in the way older and younger workers described working life and how people ought to make a living.
  • But not the neat generations we’re accustomed to: instead, ragged boundaries between the under 40s, 40s-50s, and over 50s.
relating to work1
Relating to Work
  • What were the differences?
  • Three different narratives about work:
    • Faithful: effort  reward; what’s good for organization is good for worker; commitment, integrity, hard work. Work time = my time.
    • Ambivalent: dedicated to work, not convinced that effort  reward, but willing to trust that it does; do not find fulfillment in work, but see it as “necessary drudgery.” Work time = boss’s time.
    • Disaffected: refusal to be ambivalent about work; desire for fulfillment, skepticism about the link between effort and material reward. Work time should be my time.
faith
Faith

“I guess I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility to Canadian retail, in that I wanted to see them do better, be more efficient and more competitive […] I really would like to see excellence prevail.” – Marsha, 55

“Work is not the essence of life for them like it was for us”; “I’m satisfied with my contribution, over all”; etc. – William, 60.

ambivalence
Ambivalence

“That’s one thing about it. I liked workin’, I liked it; all my life I figuredIshould be workin’. But once I had that feeling, yeah, after the last few months there, the way things were goin’, I said, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to be away from all this?’ You know? And uh, I ’member gettin’ up that Monday morning and thinkin’ ‘oh man, this whole week’s mine: I [can] do what I wanna do!’” – Victor, 86

“[Work is] important to me that it gets me out of the house, it gives me a little bit of spending money . . . it made me some new friends, but important to me as [if] I’m doing, I’m, you know, having a contribution to . . . the community or, you know . . . no . . . not really. I’m doing it for a contribution to myself, so that I’m not sitting at home becoming a couch potato […] I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it gives me purpose.” – Angela, 57

disaffection
Disaffection

“My mother […] wants all of her children to have really easy lives, but what she just wasn’t understanding was that easy didn’t mean happy for me. And, in fact, easy meant really boring and unfulfilling to me. So I just—there was no way of me making her understand that” – Maia, 36

“I do say to some friends, you know, ‘it’s not worth it’ and [they say] ‘well, you know, five more years I get my pension.’ And it’s like ‘five more years? What happens if in six years you die?’” – Jake, 41

explaining generational discourses
Explaining Generational Discourses
  • Four major shifts:
    • 1. Decline in the Standard Employment Relationship (SER) – the permanent, full-time job performed on-site for single employer. (Perception vs. reality)
    • 2. Women’s increased labour force participation (pressure on dual-earner families)
    • 3. Rise in post-secondary education (enrollment and employer expectations)
    • 4. Wealth polarization (e.g. the 99% vs. the 1%)
what does this mean for hr
What does this mean for HR?
  • Attention to shifting social, political and economic contexts.
  • Casting doubt on one-size-fits-all prescriptions.
  • Understanding that there will be tensions: these are political differences with political consequences!
  • Adding a sociological perspective to the psychology-dominated field of generations research.
productivity
Productivity

“Canada does underperform. We are not as productive as we could be. Our potential growth is slowing. Moreover, this is occurring as the very nature of the global economy, in which we previously thrived, is under threat. This debate can no longer be avoided.

What, then, must be done?

There are two imperatives–one domestic, one international–to secure strong, sustainable, and balanced economic growth for Canada. Both recall Aesop's fable of the ant and the grasshopper, the moral of which can be best summed up as "idleness brings want." In short, in a wicked world, Canada needs productive virtue” – Mark Carney, 2010

the meaning measurement of productivity
The Meaning & Measurement of Productivity

Step 1: A “genealogy” of productivity: locating the “birth” of this concept, refusing to accept it as a given.

  • Stanford Encyclopedia: “The point of a genealogical analysis is to show that a given system of thought […] was the result of contingent turns of history, not the outcome of rationally inevitable trends.”
  • Paying particular attention to productivity + prosperity
the meaning measurement of productivity1
The Meaning & Measurement of Productivity

Some genealogical findings:

  • General notions of productivity (as the amount of output per unit of input) are very old.
  • Aggregate, sophisticated measures of productivity are relatively new (1930s-1940s)
  • Originally a very progressive idea, but now sometimes used to argue for laissez-faire, market-driven policy.
  • Understandings of how to increase productivity have changed over time: from Taylor’s scientific management to human relations school.
the meaning measurement of productivity2
The Meaning & Measurement of Productivity

Step 2: Case studies

  • Looking at key moments where Atlantic Canadian economy has been rendered a “problem” to be solved.
  • Examining the understandings of productivity that shape policy approaches, as well as the political/social implications.
  • E.g.: ACOA’s mandate.
sources
Sources
  • Block, Fred, and Gene A. Burns. 1986. “Productivity as a Social Problem: The Uses and Misuses of Social Indicators.” American Sociological Review 51, no. 6: 769.
  • Hall, Stuart. 2007. Representation: cultural representations and signifying practices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Mannheim, Karl. 1952. “The problem of generations.” Psychoanalytic Review 57(3):381.
  • Mehan, Hugh. 1997. “The discourse of the illegal immigration debate: a case study in the politics of representation.” Discourse & Society 8(2):249–270.
  • Riley, Matilda White. 1987. “On the Significance of Age in Sociology.” American Sociological Review 52(1):1–14.
  • Ryder, Norman B. 1965. “The Cohort as a Concept in the Study of Social Change.” American Sociological Review 30 (6):843–861.
  • Twenge, Jean. 2006. Generation me: why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive and entitled—and more miserable than ever before.New York, NY: Free Press.
  • Wenden, Anita. 2005. “The politics of representation: a critical discourse analysis of an Aljazeera special report.” International Journal of Peace Studies 10(2):89-112.